Asbestos Cement Products

This advice applies to businesses and private householders in Australia. It is estimated that over 60% of all production and 90% of all consumption of asbestos fibre occurred in the asbestos cement manufacturing industry with many of these building materials still in use today.

Asbestos was used because it was cheap, durable and was used extensively in the building industry. After World War II until 1954, in New South Wales alone, 70,000 houses were built using asbestos cement (52% of all houses built). Up until the 1960s, 25% of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement in Australia. In Victoria, it is estimated that 98% of homes constructed before 1976 contained asbestos products (most likely asbestos sheeting) and that 20% of all domestic roofs of that period contained asbestos.

Asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s but it was not until 31 December, 2003 that asbestos and all products containing asbestos were banned throughout Australia. It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use these materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date (e.g. asbestos in houses).

According to the Queensland Government website – If you live in a Queensland government home that was built before 2004 it may have asbestos in the materials used to build it. Many buildings in Queensland built in this period contain asbestos. Asbestos-containing materials have mainly been used as wall and floor sheeting, roofing and pipes.

Asbestos is in one out of every three homes in Queensland.

What is asbestos cement?
Asbestos cement is a mixture of cement and asbestos (usually about 10-15% of the total product but could contain up to 40%) forming a hard material often used as corrugated roofing on sheds, garages and farms. It was also used to make drainpipes, flues, water
tanks and other products.

Asbestos cement usually contained white asbestos (chrysotile) but older types may contain blue (crocidolite) or brown (amosite). The type used is not really important as all asbestos is hazardous, although asbestos cement does not release many fibres and is relatively low risk if left undisturbed.

Please take the hazard seriously and remember that the irreversible effects of asbestos exposure can take between 15 and 60 years to develop.

Asbestos use declined steadily from the 1970’s but white asbestos (chrysotile) could still be used until 2004, and can be found in some relatively new buildings.

Do asbestos cement products have to be removed?
No, asbestos cement products are very durable and are likely to last for many years. However, if they need to be removed this can be done without a licence or specialist firm, although care must be taken to minimise any fibre release.

Business owners have a legal duty to manage any asbestos in their premises and this would include monitoring the condition of asbestos cement. A cement product may need to be removed if it is in very poor condition and breaking up or needs uneconomical repair.

Householders do not have the same duties, although they are required to follow the procedures for safe disposal.

My asbestos cement roof that is covered in moss, grass and lichen. Will this cause a problem?
This often happens to asbestos cement, and can eventually cause it to become brittle and break up. It is a good idea to keep the roof clear but care must be taken to do it in a way that doesn’t damage the surface and release fibres.

The only way that is recommended is to apply a commercially available biocide, then when it has had time to act, apply water with a hose (not a jet wash!) and gently brush the moss off.

You should never attempt to brush the moss off dry or use a wire brush. If any lichen or moss roots prove difficult to remove, it is better to leave them to avoid damaging the roof.

How should asbestos cement be removed and can I do this work myself?
Yes, you can remove it yourself (a licence is not needed for up to 10m²) but you will need to take some precautions.

If removal of asbestos cement is done according to these rules, it will never fall into the category where it must be notified to the enforcing authority (HSE or Local Authority, depending on the premises) this would only happen if there was likely to be exposure
beyond the “action level” given in the Regulations.

Please remember that this advice only applies to asbestos cement. Other asbestos materials are more dangerous and you should not attempt to remove them without specialist advice.

When in doubt, contract the work to a licensed, insure professional.

To minimise any risk of releasing fibres:

  • Avoid breaking the sheets try to remove them whole. Punch the nails in – you can remove the nails later with a claw hammer or pinch bar.
  • Dampen the sheets before working, in case any pieces break off while you are working. You may need to do this more than once. (Do not use excessive amounts of water as this makes cleaning up more difficult.) Beware of electricity – ensure this disconnected by a licenced electrician before starting work.
  • Remove and fixtures and fittings
  • Don’t use power tools or hand saws they will cause fibres to be released.
  • Don’t drop the sheets down to the ground as they are likely to break and shatter releasing fibres throughout the area. Hand them down to someone who is helping you.
  • Place them in the disposal area – never throw them as again they will break and shatter which will contaminate the area.

Safety equipment you will need:

  • Wear a fitted mask (must be to P3 standard or it won’t be effective against asbestos.) Do not go for the cheap disposable option as they do not offer sufficient protection against asbestos fibres and we do not recommend them. Half masks and P3 filters can be brought from hardware stores and Safety outlets
  • Wear disposable overalls with a hood (class 5) – these are cheap and can be bought from most hardware stores and gumboots or some other footwear that can be washed down. If you choose to wear other kinds of shoes you will have to throw them away afterwards as asbestos fibres will be imbedded in the fabric. There are many suppliers – try the yellow pages or an internet search or a lot of the cheap shops that are now in most suburbs.
  • Wear gloves that you can throw away when you are finished.
  • Wear safety glasses – preferably face fitting glasses that prevent dust and fibres from getting into your eyes.
  • Tape – masking tape, electrical tape – any tape that you have is fine. It is to go around your wrist and ankles to tape the sleeves of the disposable coveralls to the gloves and to the gumboots to prevent dust and fibres from going up the sleeves and legs and contaminating your clothing.

Other safety information:

  • Remember – Asbestos cement can be a fragile material and is not weight bearing.
  • If you are working from a ladder, ensure it is in good condition and that you have someone to help by steadying the foot of the ladder. If the location is very high, awkward, or the job is likely to take a long time it may be safer to hire a portable tower scaffold for the duration of the work.

So how do I go about removing the asbestos cement?
Please remember that this advice only applies to asbestos cement. Other asbestos materials are more dangerous and you should not attempt to remove them without specialist advice. When in doubt, contract the work to a licensed, insure professional.

Follow these steps:

  • Prepare your work area remove anything that doesn’t need to be there, and cover the ground or other surfaces with polythene that can be disposed of later. Ensure you have enough heavy duty bags or polythene for wrapping the sheets / pieces later on.
  • Make sure you have a safe means of reaching the material to be removed and start to remove / dismantle the asbestos cement methodically. You may need to unscrew fastenings so have any necessary hand tools available.
  • Hand down the pieces you remove and place them carefully on the polythene sheet where they will not get damaged.
  • When you are finished, check for any debris. Clear up by hand, using wet wipes or similar disposable cloths and ensure any small bits or dust are placed on the polythene sheet. Never be tempted to use a vacuum cleaner!
  • Wrap the sheets / pieces in polythene or place inside a bag if small enough (do not break them up) and seal up with tape. Now do the same again so that they are double-bagged.
  • You will also need to dispose of the polythene used to cover the ground, your overalls and mask and any other waste from the job as asbestos waste. (Wipe down your footwear and put the cloth in with the waste) Carry out the same double bagging procedure for these – they can all go in together.
  • When you have finished, and everything is safely double bagged, wash your hands and face and any tools used. It is ok for a few asbestos fibres to go down the sink as it is naturally found in water we drink it every day and it does us no harm as it is not being breathed in!

Having wrapped everything up, how do I get rid of it?

You can order a skip to be delivered to your property – make sure you specify that it is for asbestos sheeting so that it comes already lined. There are bags of varying sizes that you buy from most hardware stores – there is a number on the bags for the removalists to
come and collect the bags when you are finished and ready to the collection If the amount to be disposed of is very large, the site may refuse to take it and you will have to follow the advice for business owners.

Contact a local asbestos contractor (these are listed in yellow pages) and arrange for them to take the waste to a site licensed for the disposal of hazardous waste. It is necessary to comply with the 2011 WHS legislation so using a contractor is likely to be easier than making the arrangements yourself. There will be a charge, so it is worth getting several quotes.